After strong all-around year, Turner now just needs to fine-tune

As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Trea Turner, whose first fully healthy big league season featured more home runs but fewer stolen bases.

PLAYER REVIEW: TREA TURNER

Age on opening day 2019: 25

How acquired: Traded with Joe Ross from Padres for Steven Souza Jr. and Travis Ott, who went to the Rays in three-team deal, December 2014

MLB service time: 2 years, 135 days

2018 salary: $577,200

Contract status: Could qualify for arbitration as Super Two player in 2019, free agent in 2023.

2018 stats: 162 G, 740 PA, 664 AB, 103 R, 180 H, 27 2B, 6 3B, 19 HR, 73 RBI, 43 SB, 9 CS, 69 BB, 132 SO, .271 AVG, .344 OBP, .416 SLG, .760 OPS, 100 OPS+, 2 DRS, 4.8 fWAR, 4.1 bWAR

Quotable: “I think it’s hard to steal when you’re down, and we haven’t been winning that much. It’s hard to steal when you’re batting seventh and there’s always people in front of you. We’ve got a good lineup. So batting down in the order, there’s a lot of opportunity to drive in runs and less opportunity to steal. And even in the two-hole, sometimes there’s a little bit less opportunity to steal than batting first. So I think it’s all circumstantial. It’s just different reasons.” - Turner on his drop in stolen bases this season despite playing in more games

Turner-Throws-Gray-Side-Sidebar.jpg2018 analysis: Almost exclusively a leadoff hitter or No. 2 batter in his first two seasons in the majors, Turner opened 2018 in an unfamiliar spot: batting sixth for the Nationals. New manager Davey Martinez believed Turner, despite his obvious gifts as a speedster, was also capable of being a run producer. And with Adam Eaton also established as a top leadoff man, it made sense to try Turner out lower in the order.

That plan was shelved when Eaton landed back on the disabled list for a prolonged stretch. And even when he did return healthy later in the summer, Turner remained toward the top of the lineup, batting second the majority of the time the rest of the way. The end result? Turner’s numbers were nearly identical batting first (.274/.336/.430) as they were batting second (.280/.354/.422), but when he batted sixth, his on-base percentage actually went up slightly (.360) even though his batting average (.220) and slugging percentage (.390) suffered.

By season’s end, Turner had put together a strong year at the plate, aided in large part by his ability to stay on the field. He became the second player in club history to appear in all 162 games, a feat previously accomplished only by Ryan Zimmerman in 2007. That allowed Turner to lead the league in plate appearances and stolen bases (even if he didn’t match his total from the previous year when he swiped 46 bags in only 98 games).

In the field, Turner continued to prove he’s an above-average shortstop. His .980 fielding percentage was best-ever by a Nats shortstop. FanGraphs rated him eighth defensively out of 22 qualifying shortstops in the majors.

2019 outlook: This was a good season for Turner. And yet, there’s no denying he still has room to grow and the potential to have a great season in the near future.

At the plate, he can continue to work on working the count better. His walk rate did go up to a career-best 9.3 percent, but his strikeout rate remained flat at 17.8 percent. He saw more pitches per plate appearance (3.97) than in the past, but he still could move that number up over four. He produced eight bunt hits (after totaling only three in his career prior to this season) but actually saw his rate of infield hits go down (19.7 percent to 15.5 percent).

On the bases, Turner can become more consistent. He went through long stretches without any stolen bases this season, which was odd given his elite skills. He was picked off six times, a source of frustration for himself and the team.

And in the field, Turner can continue to become more of the leader of the Nationals infield, a take-charge shortstop who showed more signs of accepting that role this season as he begins to establish himself as a key foundation to this club.

Turner has proven he’s more than a speedster, that he can also hit for power. He has proven he can play shortstop in the big leagues. He has proven he can survive the physical and mental grind of a 162-game season. All that’s left for him to do is put all of that together and really step up to be one of the best all-around players in the sport.

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